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This Sweet Black Love Story Will Have You Reliving the ’80s

“If we had had cellphones back in the day, I would have texted Jasper from the Bronx and cancelled that third date.”

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Hannah Buckman
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Do you ever look at your young adult children and wonder if technology may be blocking their path to true love? I do. Particularly in light of my own romantic journey.

It was a beautiful Saturday in October and I glanced at the piece of paper in my hand to check an address. 388 Bergen. There it was. This brownstone seemed a bit shabbier than its neighbors, but it would do. As I got closer, I spied a nice-looking young man with a beard and mustache sitting on its steps. Although his beige cap was tilted rakishly, it didn’t quite cover his dancing eyes. We spoke. The young man, Jasper, and I were there for the same reason — to view an apartment that was for rent. The showing was set for 1 p.m., but it was already 10 minutes past that appointed time. There was nothing to do but wait.

This is a story about love B.C. — before cellphones. I met, dated and married Jasper in the 1980s — that decade of massive shoulder pads and high-top fades. A throwback, right? Still everything old isn’t bad, just as everything new isn’t improved. Are cellphones a good thing? Absolutely. But I’m glad that they didn’t exist when Jasper and I met. If they had, we might never have connected at all.

The apartment showing occurred an hour late. If that delay had happened today, half an hour into the wait I would have texted the landlord to reschedule and then — poof — I’d have been a ghost. But B.C., that wasn’t possible. Plus it was a beautiful day in Brooklyn and Jasper had dancing eyes. There are worse things that can happen to a 23-year-old.

So we talked. He was a musician and a taxi driver and the father of a three-year-old son whom he adored; Jasper and his baby’s mother were no longer together. And we talked. I was a recent college graduate with no children, looking to rent my first apartment. And we talked. He was Brooklyn born and bred; I was reared in the boogie down Bronx. The A train vs. the No. 5. Which borough was best? We argue about that to this day. But back then, to kill time, we walked to a nearby pizza shop, bought some slices and ate them on the steps of 388 as our conversation continued. The Knicks — now that was something we could agree on. No digital distractions like push notifications or gaming apps existed to block our flow. Finally, the landlord arrived and Jasper took the apartment. Jasper also took my phone number. Our courtship began.

Dating B.C. meant there was no social media. So sans Facebook, I couldn’t survey Jasper’s posts. Without Instagram, I couldn’t view the cars Jasper liked. Most importantly, dating B.C. meant there were no dating apps. Trust: Had I come across Jasper’s profile online, it would have been a wrap. A perennial college student/musician/yellow taxicab driver? Uh … me no think so. Swipe left, swipe left.

Back then, though, the only way to learn about Jasper was the old-fashioned way, through personal observation. What he said. What he did. How he acted. How he reacted.

Soon, we’d gone out twice, first to a Jets football game and then to a Miriam Makeba concert. For our third date the plan was to meet at the 72nd street train station, northeast corner, at 2 p.m. From there, we’d figure things out.

But on date day I got stuck in the Bronx and couldn’t leave until nearly 3. No answer on Jasper’s home phone meant that he’d already left. Now what? Should I stay in the Bronx and blow him off completely, or should I go to 72nd Street anyway? I chose door No. 2. Why? Well, for one thing I told Jasper that I would be there. And later, when we inevitably discussed why there was a botched connection, I could honestly say that I did show up. Eventually. But the other reason I decided to go was that there was an outside chance that Jasper might actually be nutty enough to … nah, never mind.

I arrived at 72nd Street and ascended the northeast staircase. And there, leaning against the railing, calmly thumbing his newspaper, was Jasper. Folks, we’re talking Twilight Zone. Zombieland. Bizarre-o-ville. You could have knocked me over with a Q-tip.

What manner of man waits nearly two hours for a date to show up? What manner of man exhibits no anger or crustiness when that date arrives, but instead smiles and gives her a warm hug? What planet was he from? Why was he still here? When I asked him that last question, Jasper’s eyes danced but his voice was serene. “You said that you were coming, so I figured you were just running late. I knew that you would show up.”

Deep. Already he seemed to know me better than I knew myself. But what impressed me most of all was his calm disposition. This was someone I wanted to get to know better. And 30-something years later, that quest continues.

Here’s the thing. If we had had cellphones back in the day, I would have texted Jasper from the Bronx and cancelled that third date, or I would have changed our hook-up time to 4 or 5 o’clock. Either way, there would have been no space for Jasper to innocently display the traits that I still love most about him. His patience. His commitment. His faith.

Our daughters and son are in their early 30s now. All are single, savvy and tethered to technology as if it were a lifeline. And sometimes it is. But I find myself wishing that they would put down the lifeline now and then to let life unfold. Stop tweeting or texting about life — live life. Let it happen. That’s what we did B.C. because we had no other choice. Yet it is in life’s unfolding that miracles can take place, if you let them. It is in chance encounters that connectedness occurs, if you allow it to. Who knows? If they’re lucky, one day our children’s cellphones may run out of juice and, unable to check messages or cancel appointments, they’ll find themselves in a situation where the only thing they can do is just be. And in the process of being, if they’re really lucky, perhaps they’ll wind up somewhere wonderful, enjoying a beautiful autumn day in the company of someone with dancing eyes.